Making a Clean Sweep

Making a Clean Sweep – how to clean and maintain bowling balls

Jeri Edwards

You wouldn’t buy a sports car and let it rust out in the rain, so why pay hundreds of dollars for a ball that you neglect into underperformance?

IN THE LAST ISSUE, I DISCUSSED the different bowling ball materials, the importance of ball-surface differences, and how the pin is used to affect the ball’s reaction. All of these are factors in how you play the lanes each night, and they are especially important considerations before you buy your next ball. But once you have your bowling balls selected and drilled and are happy with them, you need to develop a ball-maintenance program in order to keep them performing at an optimal level. This issue, I’ll offer a few tips on how to clean your ball and maintain its finish.

Why you need to clean

The cover is the most dominant variable in ball reaction. Because it’s in contact with the lane, the ball surface will pick up oil. With some of the newer equipment, there’s a lot of oil that gets absorbed into the ball, which soaks both the surface and the inside of the ball. As the ball rolls down the lane, only a very small portion is in contact with the lane at any given moment, but you will notice oil rings on your ball in some instances. This oil ring indicates your ball’s track (where it has rolled on the lane). Sometimes, for different reasons, you may not see an oil ring, but your ball still will have rolled on its track as it went down the lane. Every ball develops an oil track; obviously, the faster your ball tracks up, the more often you’ll need to clean it.

As this happens over time, you will start to see small marks on your ball in the track area. This is normal. Your ball experiences friction, plus small dirt particles, the grain of the wood, and other things also will mark it up. And unless you are the luckiest bowler on Earth, your ball will also get some dings. Dings happen! If the ding is not in your track, it’s no big deal. If it is in your ball track, how much a ding affects your ball depends on the size of the ding. Try to look at dings as the battle scars from being a rolling warrior.

Factors that affect a cleaning schedule

There are two main considerations when you are organizing your cleaning schedule. The first one is where you bowl. Some bowling centers are very srictly maintained. For instance, the lanes may be stripped and oiled twice a day. Other centers may not clean as often. The cleaner the lane surface, the longer it takes your ball to track up.

Where you live also makes a difference. For instance, if you bowl in an area near the beach, where a lot of sand gets dragged into the center, you will have more particles on the lane surface. The same goes for a bowling center near an airport or railroad tracks: Constant vibrations will force particles out of the ceiling and onto the lane surface. How much oil the center you bowl in applies and what type of oil is used in the dressing of the lanes will affect your maintenance program as well.

The second consideration is how often you bowl. If you bowl once a week in a three-game league, your maintenance will be less than that of someone who bowls five times a week in league, tournament, and practice play.

You can do a lot on your own to keep your equipment in shape, and every once in a while you can visit your pro shop for some extra-special treatment. If you like your ball’s hook, you need to be diligent with your ball maintenance. For your aggressive hook ball, use three-game blocks as your cleaning schedule, if possible. If you are bowling in a tournament, clean your ball at the end’ of each block of games. Even in your practice sessions, bowl three games, then change balls or clean the ball and continue. When it comes to your medium ball, however, you’ll find you won’t need to clean it as often.

Preserving your reaction

To keep the same reaction on every roll during games, you need to wipe your ball clean with a towel. Between league sessions, use a towel with something like Fantastik or rubbing alcohol. A better option may be to explore the products made specifically for bowling balls–there are many types available at your pro shop that are designed exclusively to do specific things to bowling balls. Try different brands over time to see which you like the most.

Because these cleaners are made to do different things, you may use different products for different balls. This makes sense: There are products formulated to dull a ball, shine a ball, clean a ball, and to do different combinations thereof. When you are buying a cleaning product, know what it is you want the cleaner to do. If you just want to clean your dull ball, choose a duller. If you want your ball to roll farther before it starts to hook, find a product that adds some shine. If you want an earlier hook, find something to dull the ball slightly. There are products available today that you can apply by hand that will change your ball’s characteristic.

The Lustre King is a machine that has been used for years to clean and polish bowling balls. It still can be helpful in shining polyester, urethane, and reactive bowling balls. However, it’s ineffective on dull particle technology balls.

Getting your ball “pro shop clean”

The next level of ball-cleaning, polishing, dulling, and maintenance resides in your pro shop. The pro shop has materials that are stronger and are applied using a high-speed spinner. This specialized machine is made just for working on bowling balls. Your pro shop operator can manipulate this machine and a range of products to do just what needs to be done to your bowling ball. If your ball needs special attention, this is where to go. You’ll quickly see that the results are more dramatic than what you can accomplish by hand. In fact, pro shop operators can make an old ball look new, a shiny ball look dull, or a dull ball look shiny. The magic they perform is amazing.

These changes can make a significant difference in the reaction of your bowling ball. Some of the procedures take quite a bit of time, effort, and product, but the cost is well worth the result. If, for instance, you have a particle ball that is not reacting as well as it used to, you can go to the pro shop and have the surface refreshed. The particle material is throughout the ball–not just on a thin layer of the coverstock–so you won’t lose its distinct reaction by having the pro shop work on it. In fact, for some particle technology, there is a specialized system the pro shop utilizes on them. Brunswick, for instance, has a specialized Trizact system.

In addition, pro shops have the ability and processes to recreate a near-factory finish for all bowling balls. These processes use the spinner, compounds, and sandpaper.

Using heat to clean

There is a product in the marketplace called The Rejuvenator, a machine that heats a bowling ball to draw the oil out. It heats a ball at a very low temperature–on the order of a child’s easy bake oven. Drawing out oil will give you a ball that hooks more.

When I hear of people putting bowling balls in their ovens at home, however, it makes me nervous. Bowling balls, especially reactive and particle technology balls, are sensitive to heat. If you put one of these balls in the oven at 150 degrees for an hour, don’t be surprised if it splits into two pieces as it cools. Thermal stress is not good for bowling balls. If the ball gets too hot it can crack, and even if it does not appear to have a crack on the outside surface the heat can cause many small, unseen stress fractures in the material that weaken it.

Another concern stems from the materials bowling balls are made of. There are all sorts of chemicals in the balls, and many of them are not fit for human consumption. Putting a ball into an oven that is used to prepare food is a bad idea. In fact, you shouldn’t even leave your balls in a hot trunk for very long–high temperatures in the trunk can damage a ball.

A safer and effective way to get the oil out of your ball is to get a five-gallon bucket of hot water and a detergent and scrub your ball with a soft nylon brush, rag, or sponge. This will draw the oil out of the ball and restore some of its hooking power. When you’re cleaning your ball this way, be sure to cover all of the holes with some type of tape (electric tape usually works well) to keep water from seeping in.

Why spend hundreds of dollars on a topnotch ball if you’re not going to maintain it for optimal performance? That’s like buying an expensive sports car and waiting 10,000 miles to change the oil, or leaving the body exposed to the elements and letting it rust away. By knowing what to do, where to go, and how often to maintain your ball properly, you can raise the efficiency of your game. Just as important is avoiding anything that may harm your precious ball–bowling balls are most definitely not fit for Shake ‘n. Bake.

I hope this serves as a good ball-maintenance primer. Remember, when in doubt, stop in your pro shop and ask for advice; you won’t be steered wrong.

RELATED ARTICLE: How Can My Ball Choice Help My Career?

YOUR SPEED AND ANGLE OF entry affect pin flight and carry. As far as using bowling balls to help you carry, you need to choose a ball that gets you to the pocket with the right motion. If the ball gives up too much energy early, it will not have enough energy at the pins to carry well. If the ball stores too much energy and never gets into a strong roll, you won’t carry well either.

Once you have made what you believe to be your best ball choice, hopefully your carry is excellent. Sometimes you will need small adjustments from this point to get it just right. Unfortunately, there is no single answer for increasing carry that will work every time. Some general rules are if you are ringing the corner pin, meaning the 6-pin is flying up and around the 10-pin, reducing your speed just a touch may help. If you are leaving the “flat” 10 where the 6-pin just goes into the gutter and lays there, increasing your speed may help. With as many different bowlers as there are, there are that many options to carry.

There are no steps to follow to knock out the 10-pin. What works today may not work tomorrow at a different house.

Making small adjustments is part of learning the game. If you are hitting the pocket and not striking, be bold and make an adjustment. If it doesn’t work well, try something else. As you gain experience and get a feel for what is best for you, you will make your adjustments faster and get better at making them.

Getting to know more about your equipment and watching your ball reaction will make you a better player. You will know what you need and when your equipment needs attention. Keep those balls a-rollin’.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group